Realignment appeal successful

OMB decision released Friday orders City to include students in its population count

The hearing took place at City Hall beginning Oct. 21.
The hearing took place at City Hall beginning Oct. 21.

The AMS, the Sydenham District Association (SDA) and law student Kevin Wiener have successfully appealed City Council’s electoral boundary realignment bylaw.

In a decision dated Nov. 6, the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) ruled that City Council “acted unreasonably” in adopting the realignment structure that it did.

On April 23, City Council passed its proposed “Option 1” with a 7-6 vote. This option didn’t include students in its population count and would eliminate Sydenham District, meaning that students would be represented by three city councillors instead of the current four.

The AMS, the SDA and Wiener all filed separate appeals in June, arguing that the realignment would provide less representation for students. The SGPS was also involved, acting as a participant to the AMS appeal.

This week’s OMB decision ruled in favour of “Preferred Revised Option 4” replacing Option 1, meaning that Sydenham District will be preserved and students will be included in the total population tally.

The Board found there were clear and compelling reasons to interfere with Council’s choice to adopt Option 1. The decision notes that though students may be temporary residents, they contribute to the community and have issues to bring to municipal government.

“The elected representative is not simply the representative of those who voted, or those who voted for him or her, but of all the residents of his or her ward,” it reads.

AMS President Eril Berkok said he was notified of the decision Friday, when the Chair of the SDA sent it to him by email.

“I think [the successful appeal] came down to cooperation and a sincere belief in effective student representation,” he said.

“[This] means that we’ll be considered the same as any other citizen of Kingston – no more, no less. We’re now counted in the electoral boundary drawing.” As of Friday afternoon, Berkok hadn’t yet spoken to Mayor Mark Gerretsen or anyone from the City.

The hearing, which took place the week of Oct. 21, had parties presenting their arguments in front of OMB member Sylvia Sutherland.

“We were feeling pretty good, cautiously optimistic after the hearing took place,” said Berkok, who acted as a witness in the case. “[But] we didn’t want to get ahead of ourselves.”

Instead of perpetuating negative town-gown relations, Berkok believes the group effort by students and neighbourhood residents helped bring the two, often distant, groups together.

“Really everyone came together on this one,” he said.

At the hearing, the City noted that no other municipality with post-secondary education institutions include students in their population counts, but Sutherland wrote that the Board didn’t view this as a valid argument.

“Because something has not been done, doesn’t mean it should not be done,” Sutherland wrote in the decision.

Berkok is aware of student groups at other post-secondary institutions that have been closely monitoring the AMS appeal, but said he can’t speak to whether they’ll take any action in their respective municipalities.

The City of Kingston released a statement Friday afternoon, noting that this decision will “influence all municipalities with colleges and universities.”

“The City of Kingston respects Member Sutherland’s decision and will now finalize the new electoral district boundaries for the 2014 municipal election and move forward with the planning and administration of the election,” the statement said.

“The work of City staff in preparing the various reports and boundary configuration options should be commended as should the dedication of the participants involved in the OMB appeal process.”

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